Jiu Jiu’s note: This week I have a special guest writer, Pamila Jo Florea. She’s a good friend of mine who does not do jiu jitsu, but she went to watch a BJJ tournament with me. She has a background in psychology and worked as a therapist in the past, and I was very interested in having her write an article about her perception of jiu jitsu. We sometimes joke about not wanting to steal one another’s lives, but rather to pirate it.

“Whatcha doing this weekend? Anything interesting?”

It’s a question we all ask. Hopefully when asked, we have an interesting answer. I’ve been blessed with fascinating folk in my world who are all too happy to allow me to pirate their interesting plans to add a little spice to my own life. So when my friend Julia, AKA Jiu Jiu, tells me she’s going to a jujitsu tournament to help support her teammates, I put a patch on my eye, dust off the old parrot and pop on the subway.

Now, just to be clear, I don’t do martial arts. I have attended a few workshops, learned to shoot a gun, assisted in training a model-mugging type course out of New York City. Sparring / conflict / fighting is not new to me. I’ve dated martial artists, lived with them, heck I’ve even pitted my dirty street fighting style against their graceful twirls and curls in faux fighting. But a whole day of watching folks fight in what looks like their pajamas? Never did that before. And let’s admit it. I’m woefully ignorant about the wrestling aspect of Jujitsu.

One of the brown belt matches

One of the brown belt matches

I won’t lie. After an hour or so, the fighting itself bored me. I didn’t know enough to appreciate, and frankly I couldn’t see enough to understand the explanations that Jiu Jiu and various other aficionados threw my way. And, I didn’t know anyone there. So *my* experience was a far cry from that of the BJJ Contingent. This doesn’t mean there wasn’t something there for me, though. Nope. There was something else that was fascinating, something that intrigued me. Spectators. The spectators took my breath away.

Like all sports events, there were the yays and boos and disagreements with the referees. (Do they even call them referees in Jujitsu? Hmm.) Anyway, there was all that, but there was something else. It was a person-centered experience. Fights (Matches?) lasted anywhere from a couple dozen seconds to a few minutes. Several fights at the same time. There were injuries. There were even a couple temper flare-ups. But like a thread weaving its way through the gym, there was always a feeling of camaraderie and support. All day people stayed. There were a couple of types of spectators – the one-on-one supports like moms and girlfriends, best friends and brothers. But there was also a slew of people who were clearly practitioners who were NOT going to spar but who showed up. Who were these people?

In basketball, football, baseball, there is always the chance that you will be called in to replace a teammate. You are not there for get-‘em-tiger support. You are there to possibly participate. But here, here at this event, spectators were present for their teams simply as moral support. For hours, people sat reading books, chatting, eating a pseudo-picnic lunch, flirting, people watching. And then bursts of attention. “Is that X in the white gi?” “Hey Y is about to go in.” And it was like a light was switched. Books were marked, chicken was dropped, eyes snapped to attention. And whoosh! Calling out suggestions, assistance, encouragement. It was like a bubble surrounded each participant. That bubble was made up of people rooting for him. Loudly. (I didn’t see any women on the mats – sad – but that’s another article).

Bystanders supporting their teammates

Bystanders supporting their teammates

I don’t know who the people in the photo are. Jiu Jiu says they are from another gym. But I was drawn to them throughout the tournament. It is the focused attention that resonated for me. Absolute, 100% energy toward the person they were there to support.

For those of us on the other side, the non-participants, even if we don’t know the holds of the sport or the mechanics of the roll or the physics of leverage, this much we can pirate from the non-participating Jujitsu practitioners. Be there for your people. Take care of yourself – eat your meal, expand your mind, celebrate your flirtation – but when it is time to be present for those in your circle, be there… encourage… help. Your people deserve no less. You deserve to be that kind of mate.

About the author: Pamilajo Florea is the creator of casadewhimsy, a blog of whimsical art paired with serious sentiment. She can be reached at pamilajflorea@gmail.com.


Edited to add Jiu Jiu’s note: Do you support your teammates when they are competing and you are not? Have you found it helped strengthen your bond? How supportive is your team and your coach while you’re competing?